“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
Powerful words from Jesus. Yes, these are powerful words through which God invites us to consider how we welcome our fellow human beings; how we treat those around us, considering our treatment of others as though we are considering how we would treat God. Later in Matthew Jesus will again remind the disciples and us that our treatment of those around us matters, and that whatever we do or do not do for our fellow humans – “the least among us” - we also have done or not done for Jesus (Matthew 25).
It would seem that how we see, perceive, and treat our neighbors is directly related to how we see and treat God, at least in God’s eyes.
Oh, that shakes me to the core.
Who among us can say that we have always treated others with is often referred to as the golden rule; Jesus quoting Leviticus and saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” Who among us can say that we have truly reflected the welcome and love of God as reflected in the saving grace of Jesus by the cross to all of those around us?
Oh, perhaps we nod along at the idea of love and welcome, thinking our hearts open, our homes open, our churches open. But if we get truly honest with ourselves and start making some lists, just how welcome would everyone on those lists be?
- Children (polite ones of course, not the loud and rowdy ones)
- Little old ladies (Polite ones of course, not the loud and rowdy ones)
- Someone who cheers for a different sports team (if only there were sports teams playing to be cheered for right now, we might think to ourselves)
- What about a Democrat or Republican (maybe as long as we don’t talk to each other about what we really think and believe?)
- People of different races (we nod our heads politely)
- How about an open and unapologetic white supremacist? (Are we squirming in our chairs?)
- Formerly jailed persons? (Maybe we cock our heads to one side)
- People who don’t smell so good (did our noses just wrinkle?)
- People who don’t dress the way we think they should (too revealing or too stuffy)
- LGBTQ people (well, maybe if they are single - but what if they come into our homes or churches holding hands or kissing?)
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”
Oh, how often is our intended welcome but a pale shadow of Christ’s intentions.
One of the invitations I have heard during this recent groundswell of rising up against racism through which we are living: one of the invitations to white people like me has been to increase the amount of source materials we bring into our lives that are authored by and centered around people of color, to welcome a new understanding and consciousness, if you will.
Hearing this invitation and taking it seriously I have ordered a couple of books, including one entitled “How to Undo Racism” and another entitled, “White Fragility,” and I took time this week to watch a documentary centered on our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, entitled “Becoming.” The documentary was part reminder of an era of our nation’s history that we can and should all feel proud of, and part moving personal narrative of one of our modern day, living heroes of history; Michelle Obama, a person who has walked and continues to walk with faith, grace, courage, and humility through this world.
Just over halfway through the documentary, Michelle Obama is talking about the incredible highs and lows that she and president Obama lived through, sometimes on the very same day. And she named, as one example, the day that Marriage Equality was passed, and shared that it wasn’t until she was writing her book that she remembered that as that day began, that day when Marriage Equality was passed, she and president Obama attended a funeral for the people of color who had been killed during a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. That was the funeral where President Obama spontaneously began singing “Amazing Grace” as part of the expression of grief and loss, yet also hope in the Power deeper that the sins of this world.
One day. One day that reminds us that when prejudice is reigned in, a welcome can be extended to those for whom it was previously denied; and one day to remind us that unless we continue to vigilantly root out prejudice it will raise its vicious head when we least expect it and literally reach into the sanctuaries of our lives to wrench life away.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
And what kind of welcome will that be? What kind of welcome will God, our precious Savior receive?
Think again of that list we started making a few minutes ago. Will our welcome be real and complete, or will it be polite nods, heads cocked to one side, or noses wrinkled depending on who enters the door or is encountered on the street? Will it be radical welcome that fights for justice and equality for our brown and black sisters and brothers, or merely tokenism that includes just enough welcome and just enough inclusion to claim that it has included at all? Will it be full LGBTQ inclusion where hearts and minds and souls are changed, or a welcome that leaves us continuing to edit out our LGBTQ family members and their partners and spouses when we talk to others lest we make anyone feel uncomfortable, and which then is not true welcome at all?
How deep does our welcome go? Beyond skin? Beyond gender and sexuality? Does our welcome extend as far as our Savior and Redeemer who is also our Creator and who lives and breathes as creating God within the beating breast of all of God’s children on this planet and who went to the cross to die in order to take away our sin, including the sins of racism and homophobia?
How many times will a gay person or a person of color have to be beaten and killed before all parents and grandparents and sisters and brothers collectively rise up and declare that our welcome will be more than skin deep; our welcome will boldly take our hands and hearts off the edit keys of our speech and actions so that Christ’s welcome can shine forth from these frail hearts and minds; so that Christ’s welcome takes center stage as the tattered sin-soaked fragments of our misconceptions that no longer serve us and in truth never did fade to the background and get taken to the compost heaps where they deserve to be relegated, left to be eaten by the worms and perhaps by the grace of God composted into soil that can grow fruit worthy of our Savior Christ whose blood seeks to set us free to be people of God, not leave us people of self-delusion.
As the apostle Paul reminds us, by the power of the cross we can with God’s help become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which we have been entrusted - that is God’s righteousness.
Not our own thinking we are “right-ness,” but God’s righteousness as laid plain by Christ in the cross that not only broke the yolk of sin 2,000 years ago, but seeks today to break open our lives, our homes, and our churches so that we may grow beyond the failings of our sin to a yet more glorious day. Christ’s righteousness meets us in the illness of our sin and lovingly invites that we join this great Love, this great Light of Christ so that this day, this day; our lives and world will be defined not by sin but by God’s redemptive welcome.
“For whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”